Resort Holds Vigil For Ukraine

Resort Holds Vigil For Ukraine
The Town of Ocean City held a vigil Tuesday evening in support of Ukraine. Mayor Rick Meehan is pictured above speaking to the crowd that had gathered at the Inlet. Photo by Chris Parypa

OCEAN CITY – Against the backdrop of a clear, but chilly evening with the pier Ferris wheel lit up in blue and yellow, about 200 or so people gathered on the south end of the Boardwalk on Tuesday to hold a vigil on behalf of the people of Ukraine.

Mayor Rick Meehan led the vigil, which was also attended by other local elected officials, local residents and a smattering of Ukrainian-Americans. Meehan explained the reason for the gathering.

“This is our show of solidarity and support,” he said. “The colors on the Ferris wheel behind us tell the story. It’s tremendous how many people heeded the call and showed up here this evening.”

Meehan said the vigil was just one small way to show the people of Ukraine support.

“So many people have asked me what can we do, how can we show our support,” he said. “I thought the best way was for all of us to take just a little bit of time and gather together and let the world know that Ocean City cares and that Ocean City is here to support Ukraine.”

The mayor said it was important to gather to show support, but also to not forget the horrors the people of Ukraine have been enduring in the last couple of weeks since the invasion by Russia.

“We gather to show support for Ukraine and for their right to freedom,” he said. “We want to send a clear message that Ocean City stands behind and supports Ukraine and peace throughout this world of ours. Standing with us tonight are Americans and some citizens from Ukraine and it’s wonderful to have them here with us, but, I can also imagine how it must be as they watch in horror as their families at home are forced to flee their homes or hide in place from the unprovoked Russian assault. We welcome them here tonight.”

Meehan commented on the strong connection Ocean City has with Ukraine and the thousands of student seasonal workers who have spent summers and beyond in Ocean City.

“Others of us here have close, personal ties to Ukraine and the people of Ukraine,” he said. “I think we all know that over the past 10 years students in the J-1 program from Ukraine have been traveling to Ocean City, and not just working here, but living among us here in Ocean City.”

Meehan said Anne Marie Conestabile from United Work and Travel estimated 12,000 have come to Ocean City to work for the summer season over the years.

“Many of them return, and really they became part of our community,” he said. “I think all of us recognize how important we were to them and how important we are for them now.”

In his closing, Meehan pointed to the atrocities the people are facing while enduring the invasion by Russia and praised them for their courage.

“No country should have to succumb to a dictator who, for his own personal reasons, believes he has a right to commit war on women, children and brave men who are standing strong against all odds to protect their country and their right to freedom,” he said. “I think the people of Ukraine have shown the world tremendous courage and they are resolved to protecting their rights and their way of life. We must support their efforts in every way that we can and that includes the small things like this evening. What we are here to let the people of Ukraine know is that they are not forgotten, and they are supported here and throughout the United States.”

Perhaps the most poignant segment of the vigil was the reflections of Ina Kiwiki, a native of Ukraine now living in the U.S.

“Thank you for coming out and supporting the people of Ukraine and people like me who were born and raised in Ukraine,” she said. “I am a proud American, but I remember where I came from, where I went to school and got my education, and that’s always going to be beating in my heart. I will always remember where I came from and to see that my family back home is going through such horror and having to deal with such unprecedented times in the 21st century is heartbreaking to watch, but also even harder to know that your family and your friends are living in that horror. In my mind right now, what we can do is show the people of Ukraine and around the world that Ocean City stands for what’s right, which is stopping the war and stopping this nonsense.”

Ocean City Baptist Church Pastor Sean Davis then reflected on his interactions with Ukrainian student-workers and a mission trip he took to the now war-torn country.

“I see many members of my congregation here, many prayer warriors who have been praying for the people of Ukraine, and the people of Russia, because they all need to be prayed for during this time,” he said. “I want to tell you why I’m here. I went on a mission trip in 2012 because we were invited by students who came from Ukraine to Ocean City.”

Davis said during the mission trip he had the opportunity to teach English classes at the university and fell in love with the people of Ukraine and their country and the capital, Kyiv.

“I’ve been keeping in contact with many of them and I hear my news from them and not from anywhere else,” he said. “I know it’s hard there. Friends of ours have been separated from their loved ones and it’s hard to hear those stories.”

Davis shared one message from a friend in Ukraine named Ira.

“Right now, we can hear the sounds of rockets going off,” the message reads. “Pray for our protection through this night as it seems there could be a lot of shelling and fighting around us. Pray for the protection of Ukrainians tonight who are facing rockets hitting apartment buildings and other places where there are people. Those attacks at night feel like demons coming at us.”

Davis then led the gathered assembly in prayer. Meehan asked for those from Ukraine among the assembled group to come forward and there were about a dozen or so, including children, draped in the flag of their country. The mayor then read a proclamation from the town in support of the people of Ukraine and presented it to the small group assembled to close out the ceremony.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.